Posted by: drewdice | July 2, 2010

The Gambler

Remember that Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler?

Well, following my favorite football team, the San Diego Chargers, recently made me think of major challenges that organizations face in building successful, sustainable models, which made me think of Kenny himself. See if you follow where I’m going with this:

– Vincent Jackson, arguably one of the best wide receivers (on the field) for my beloved Bolts, got his second DUI, and plead guilty to the charge in February 2010. Just the other day, the NFL suspended him for 3 games. He is a restricted free agent, and refused to sign the 1 year tender offer from San Diego, saying that if they didn’t offer him a long term deal (also paying him as one of the top receivers in the league), that he would sit out for the majority of the year. The Chargers’ position is to let him sit, not give him the long term deal, and possibly trade him. There are many Chargers’ fans who are up in arms with the team, since Jackson is such a top producer and threat for opposing defenses.

-Are you kidding? To me, this is a no brainer. I love Jackson’s on the field production (except for the bomb he missed in last year’s playoffs against the Jets that resulted in an interception, and cost San Diego a more commanding lead; the Bolts eventually lost the game), but his off the field transgressions more than negate the football contributions. Jackson is lucky that San Diego didn’t just jettison him. Culture should trump production every time, and if there is a rebel on the squad that just cannot mesh with the values and culture of the organization (mind you, this is after the appropriate coaching, interventions, help, mentoring….), that person has no place in that organization. I’ve seen it too many times where high producing rebels are given exceptions and special treatment, and there are few things more devisive to an organization’s health than that type of behavior from the organization’s leadership. What is the big deal, you might say? Top producers should get extra rope? Not when it comes to culture. Or……

-Consistent producers and team players begin to build resentment towards leadership and the organization, eventually resulting in defection
-Trust in the leadership and organization breaks down
-“Steady-state” contributors learn bad behavior by what the organization is rewarding (not handling conduct that is detrimental to the health of the organizatoin appropriately is the same as rewarding that behavior, and others learn this) can convert those “good” employees to “bad”
-The cancer will eat away at the fabric and culture of the organization, from the inside-out, eventually harming the recruiting efforts, business development and brand identity in the community

I am sure you can think of examples where you have seen this in organizations you know (hopefully, not yours). Don’t get me wrong, it is not easy to “cut” top producers, and many leaders will gadly turn a blind eye to cash the larger paychecks. That doesn’t make it right, and it certainly does not make it a best practice. Show discipline, build a framework that can stand the test of time, massive economic shifts, and dense competition. Do what is right.

Listen to the Gambler: know when to walk away, and even better, know when to run (away from individuals who will cripple your organization)





  1. Late response but I have been falling behind…

    I’m not sure your analogy of VJ to the workplace “rebel” works. VJ was a “rebel” away from the field. His on field performance and attitude was outstanding.

    To carry that analogy to the workplace would mean your “rebel” you write of was a party animal and occasional law breaker while away from the workplace but while at work, was an upstanding and in all cases an outstanding employee with great work ethics.

    Many workplaces adopt a don’t ask, don’t tell policy on what happens outside of the office and so I don’t see how this employees out of office transgressions would affect others around him on the job.

    Your point is well taken that there are sometimes different rules for high producers in the workplace and that can affect the morale of others but the same has been true in sports forever. If Michael Jordan misses the layup, Mike Gminski was getting the foul called every time because hey, it’s Michael Jordan. G-man could have bitched, moaned and whined about it but in the end, he realizes he is at the top level and this is how things work. His alternative could have be playing pickup at the Y.

    One last point. Sometimes management needs to look upon itself when these rebels appear. Perhaps they have created an environment where the rebel has grievances that aren’t being addressed and so there is no recourse but to act out. Not that I have any experiences with that….

    • You have been M.I.A. I agree, and it is good to hear from you.

      You raise some good points around rebels outside of work and outstanding employees with good work ethic. This creates two issues though:

      First, it is very difficult to say that because someone’s in work/on the field performance is good, that he/she can behave not only irresponsibly, but also illegally off the field/out of the office. There is a absolutely a difference between mild irresponsibility and illegal behavior, and the latter has a negative impact on an entire organization. In VJ’s case, he is now suspended for 3 games and that hurts the team.

      Second, what would be different if a subpar performer acted similarly off the field? Most likely, that player or employee would be jettisoned immediately. Inconsistency like that sends mixed messages on a team or in the workplace.

      I’m not suggesting this is easy (it is, in concept, but not in execution), but in my opinion, necessary when building a high performing organization.

      As far as the notion of management playing a huge role in the high performance environment, I couldn’t agree more. Many times, managers sabotage their own efforts with inconsistent treatment of employees, rewarding poor performance, inadequate training, not setting proper expectations and not setting the vision or giving timely, appropriate feedback and coaching.

      Keep the feedback coming!

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